Roadwork needed for the electric car era

Policy makers are pushing for the rise of electric cars to combat pollution, but it seems they haven't considered the infrastructure needed to facilitate such a shift.

There are different approaches in changing traffic patterns and transportation in cities and urban regions. Some cities have been best practice leaders in electronic tolling systems and congestion charging such as Wuhan/China and Singapore. Some have taken the wasted time for the search of parking spaces into consideration and created dynamic parking guidance systems such as in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Some have implemented electric vehicle car sharing points in downtown areas, such as Paris and Munich.

Cities like Copenhagen have restricted the vehicle traffic into the city, instead supporting bicycle lane instead. You get the pictures, different initiatives solving the selective issues in those cities.

The manner in which citizens- whether they are part of an enterprise or business environment, or residents, tourists, and passers-by, navigate through cities deserve a comprehensive urban mobility view including vehicle traffic, drivers, as well as road utilisation and parking. This context of mobility can be measured in traffic velocity and throughput, alternative options for mode of transport, as well as impact on environmental metrics such as air quality, pollution levels, CO2 emissions and energy savings.

Most important metric should be how citizens rate the success of the mobility concept in terms of commuter time saved, convenience to navigate options, real time information on availability or access to different services depending on frequency of system used, special service requirements or different dynamic access modes.

Many cities today toil with the idea of electric mobility, especially in Europe but with a limited view on the overall impact on the urban mobility concept. The key is that national governments such as Germany, Japan or South Korea are pushing electric vehicle policies to support the national automobile industry and innovation around it. However, the initial and primary use case for those e-vehicles will be in urban areas. So the question really becomes how well are cities prepared to take an integrated user view of electric mobility, not just the vehicles alone.  

A lot of investment will be needed to build out electric charging station throughout urban corridors. This is the safety perception for drivers to feel confident that if they need charging they have options to receive it. But that could not be the only benefit. Do electric vehicles receive special parking rights? Are there special lanes dedicated for e-vehicle drivers during peak hours of traffic? Passing through tunnels or bridges, do they receive rebates? What is the impact on their electricity subscription? Electricity utilities need to change their billing model to accommodate service models and electric roaming charges, as well as the context of electricity subscription per electricity customer. This requires a comprehensive business environment that cannot be solved by just talking about the technology but needs to take the user/driver/citizen benefit assessment as well.

As a city example on how this can be done, the city of Malaga launched Zem2all , an electric mobility pilot that includes the utility Endesa, electric vehicle manufacturers, citizen as drivers as well as a service environment to assess the opportunity of electric mobility through the city and beyond. This pilot provides a holistic impact analysis on usage patterns of electric vehicles, charging requirements, driver satisfaction, as well as the impact on the electricity grid and environmental outcomes.

Smart urban city planning which is based on intelligent technology capabilities in smart cities require the ability to develop strategic scenarios that include the holistic mobility impact on people who are supported by the infrastructure that include vehicles, and not vice versa.

Automobile industry and utility providers should work closely together with urban concept planners and city governments to understand the common mobility requirements of citizens and businesses. This would also accelerate the business service environment that's supported by applications and service stores through third party developers.

Bettina Tratz-Ryan is a research vice president at Gartner.

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